Orona Island: Topside

This is blog entry posted from the field during the 2012 Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area (PIPA) Expedition. The Phoenix Islands are an isolated island chain more than 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. They are part of the island nation of Kiribati, which partnered with the New England Aquarium and Conservation International to create PIPA in 2008. Today it is one of the world's largest marine protected areas and a UNESCO world heritage site. This voyage is part of a regular series of scientific expeditions to investigate coral health and study ecosystems and biodiversity.

Photographer Keith Ellenbogen, a regular Aquarium blog contributor, is on the expedition capturing stunning underwater photos of marine life as well as these topside images of Orona Island. Descriptions are written by Randi Rotjan.

Orona Island is relatively lush, hosting many prominent coconut palms, scrub brush and other trees. The expedition team went ashore to assess infrastructure that was previously installed by the Kirabati government in 2001. The idea was to host a small fishing settlement, but the project was unsuccessful, likely due to the extreme isolation and resulting issues (freshwater availability, supply runs, etc). Though the infrastructure is relatively new (only a decade old!), you can see the impact of the intense sun and salt spray. Interestingly, Orona also hosts prehistoric Polynesian ruins ... but those are on the other side of the island and were not visited by the team. That's the thing about the Phoenix Islands - tiny specks in the Pacific, but yet there's always more to see.

Orona Island (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

A Maneeba (local word for village hall) (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

On Orona Island in the Central Pacific a safe remains locked within the bank. 
A place to withdraw money... but there's no treasure left. (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

Tuake Teema explores and assesses the conditions of the island and village that was last inhabited in 2001. (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

The remnants of  a church bell from 2001. This bell was rung every Sunday.  (Photo: K. Ellenbogen)

A korean or japanese-style fishing helmet with a light that washed ashore in Orona Island.
There is lots of shoreline debris littering the islands (read more here).

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